Agony, ecstasy, and smiles on Myanmar’s bench
by rick olivares
The 2017 Seaba Men’s Basketball Championship is the first major basketball tournament for the Myanmar squad. As the song from the animated film Aladdin went, “It’s a whole new world. A new fantastic point of view.”
They have been repeatedly blown out by their opponents but that hasn’t dampened their confidence or even their good nature one iota. Head coach Kong Heng Tan isn’t going to let a blowout ruin the experience. “We came to compete but more importantly to learn,” he put succinctly.
When you watch their bench, the Burmese go through the full gamut of emotions. To wit in their 85-32 loss to Singapore last Tuesday:
Coach Kong at the 4:14 mark of the second period with the score 37-9 in favor of Singapore, he plucks swingman Thant Zaw from the bench. “I want to see good defense,” said the coach. In the very next play Lim Yuan scores underneath the basket with a helpless Zaw looking on.
“I think he has no concept of defense,” lamented Kong who looked as if he about to walk off a gangplank.
At the 7:14 mark of the third period, point guard Sei Thu Tun Tun of “C2” as he is nicknamed takes a 15-foot jump shot and makes it, 52-13 for Singapore. Said Kong to his bench, “C2 is never gun shy. He is going to shoot.”
Three minutes later, Kong pulls out C2 and rails at him for poor backcourt leadership. The point guard explains himself but the coach is having none of it. he chides the guard further who clammed up.
A few minutes earlier, forward Wana Aung, who has captured the hearts of the Smart Araneta Coliseum crowd passes the ball to C2. Except power forward Thein Han or “Phu” as they call him gets in the way. The result is an ugly turnover as the ball ricochets off his face and out of bounds.
“Only this happens to us,” mutters Kong as he looks up high for answers and succor.
The bench chuckles. Phu goes to the bench touching the side of his face to see if his jaw is still in place.
At the 9:28 mark of the fourth period, two Burmese players go after the rebound and as a result, it goes out in favor of Singapore (and the score at 63-27 for the latter). “Oh, man,” laments Kong.
With 3:21 left to play, Singapore’s third string and 18-year old 6’6” center Lavin Raj bowls over two Myanmar players en route to the basket.
Like a bowling ball and bowling pins,” laughs Burmese center Kaung Myat Aye as his teammates on the bench double up in laughter. Even Kong cannot stifle a chuckle.
Earlier, when Wana Aung, their leading scorer and best player was sent to bench and never to return, his teammates Thein Tun “Thomas” Oo and Kaung Myat Aye cover their teammate’s head in a towel as he soaks in the applause from an appreciative crowd. Then they tease for a lay-up that was an inch short off a finger roll. Aung isn’t fazed. He laughed and shook his head.
A few seconds later, one of the ball boys from the tournament has fallen asleep by the baseline and he catches the attention of Wana Aung and Kaung Myat Aye. They point to him and laugh. Said an interpreter of the duo’s comments: “They were laughing because they think Myanmar basketball bores him.”
After falling in another blowout loss, the Myanmar team met at center court for a brief huddle then turned to the crowd to thank them. Applause from the crowd that was filling in rained down on them.
Said Wana Aung through an interpreter outside his team’s dugout, “We have never had this kind of crowd watch and cheer for us before. It makes all of us proud. I would love to come back and learn how to play the game here. They love basketball and there is so much to learn.”
On the team’s way off the court, Kong looks at me with a frown… then smiles. “That is how we sum up our game.”
Myanmar plays Indonesia today Wednesday, May 17 then Malaysia in their Seaba swan song on Thursday, May 18.